You could tell if a destination is gaining ground in terms of tourism when their infrastructure starts improving. During my recent visit to Tawi-tawi, I was able to climb Bud Bongao again. I certainly noticed a new building, paved stairways and other pleasing developments. It was eight years ago when I last climbed Bud Bongao. A time when there still a heavy stigma hovering over the province. But now that stigma is slowly lifting. People are learning that Bongao, Tawi-tawi is relatively safe which resulted to a three-fold increase in tourism arrivals just this year, 2017. At the forefront of the province’s tourism project is the Bud Bongao Eco-Tourism Park. A 342-meter high sacred mountain with an imposing presence at the center of the island.
“San ka galing? (Where did you come from?)”
“Sa malayo! Sa merloquet! (Somewhere far! At Merloquet)”
For Zamboangueños, ‘merloquet’ used to be a fabled place pertaining to somewhere far far away when used in colloquial conversation. Nowadays, it pertains to Merloquet Falls that has gained popularity in the recents years due to its wide pour and lovely wall of cascades. It is still far far away in Zamboanga City but I managed to visit the place as a side trip while in the region.
I took the front seat of the ‘torpedo’ boat. That’s what they call this long wooden motorized canoes without outriggers in Samar. Like the faluwas in Batanes, these boats are designed to navigate wild waters whereas if they have outriggers, it would easily snap from the force of the rapids. Judging by the boats, I could expect an exciting ride over at Ulot River. The Ulot River Torpedo Extreme Boat Adventure is one of the main attraction in Samar which is also a part of the Ulot Watershed Ecotourism Loop attractions of numerous waterfalls, caves, springs and an eagle sanctuary.
Loboc is not the only river town in Bohol. The island province, home to the chocolate hills and the tiny primates, tarsiers, have four major rivers intersecting through the island. Up northwest is the Inabanga River, the largest on the island and Ipil River up north. Utilized for eco-tourism is Loboc River coming from the center of the island down to the southeastern coast and recently, the Abatan River flowing to the southwestern coast. Our adventure guide, Buzzy Budlong, found excellent paddling opportunities on the latter and set-up shop along with the town’s RiverLife tours to offer something different and new.
“We can’t find our boat!” paddling master, Buzzy Budlong, tells me after several attempts of trying to spot our convoy outrigger boat through the maze-like passageways of Banacon Island, north of Bohol. Buzzy was at the back of our double kayak as I was the one in charge to shoot. We wait for the others south of the largest man-made mangrove island in Asia. He switched places with my assigned-writer friend, Oggie, back to his favorite yellow stand-up paddle (SUP) board, Mango Float. His sight looked far to the mainland. “Let’s head to that lighthouse!” he pointed. “Is he kidding?!” I thought. That’s almost 10km away by sea and we’re passing through two sea channels and an island. But he paddled on. He’s crazy like that which also partly makes him great.
It was a relief that after travelling at least four hours from Bantayan Island, then a short 200 meter hike from the roadside, we were welcomed with Cebuano folk songs by the staffs of BAETAS (Bojo Aloguinsan Ecotourism Association). I may not fully understand the words but I could feel the collective liveliness from the group vocals to the energetic strums of the lone guitar. We were on the third day of our Oceana Philippines photo safari at Tañon Strait. We traveled southwest to the town of Aloguinsan to experience their Bojo River Cruise, the towns foremost attraction with activities revolving around the 1.4km river leading to Tañon Strait.
I’ve been long interested with the mangroves of El Nido. Yes, the place is most known mainly for it’s dramatic karst islands, blue lagoons and scenic beaches. But El Nido also has a rich mangrove eco-system. I was originally looking for a way to visit the Aberawan Mangroves but it’s not a popular tour and could cost me a lot. I was told of the Wakat Wakat Mangroves of Bubulungan, just at the border of El Nido town proper. Decided to spend an afternoon to look for this place.